Prosaic – until Hani’s assassins

BEING CHRIS HANI’S DAUGHTER by Lindiwe Hani & Melinda Ferguson (MF Books Joburg)

A book with a provocative title is bound to titillate a morbid voyeurism in even the most stoic of minds. Being conscious of this, I hadn’t planned on reading Being Chris Hani’s Daughter.

The fascination we have with famous figures is a little distasteful insofar as it encroaches on their families’ ability to lead private lives — except for the Kardashians, of course. I was also put off by the title because I read it as yet another scion of the political elite capitalising on the memory her famous dead hero of a father. Oh joy!

Besides, what was new about someone with a famous surname talking about their famous relative(s) and how not being able to live up to that name drove them to addiction? Had I not also travelled in the circles of the offspring of the great political families of this country and seen first-hand their ways (which were also mine, to a certain extent)?

A grand orgy of self-destruction fuelled by a seemingly unending source of funds to finance “the good life”; funds invariably supplied by guilt-wracked parents overcompensating for their revolutionary absence in their children’s lives. Hasn’t one of the Mandelas already written such a book? “Elitist bourgeoisie self-indulgence”, I thought of the book.

But, after hearing her talk briefly on the radio about meeting with Janusz Walus, who assassinated her father, and Clive Derby-Lewis, who aided and abetted him, the nosy-parker in me decided the book was worth reading for that at least. I was never ready to find myself firmly located in my feelings throughout the book.

Lindiwe Hani and I are about the same age. Our generation has dealt with transition in a unique way that has probably been expounded on ad nauseum by writers more talented than me. The only observation I want to make is how, from about the turn of the century when we reached young adulthood, most of us have descended into a dark hell of substance use and abuse. From the more socially acceptable alcohol and the niche middle-class cocaine to the more sinister crystal meth/tik and heroin, Mandela’s Boom Shaka generation were pioneers in what is now a full-blown substance abuse epidemic.

“But I soon learned that the details don’t matter — what we’d done and how much we’d used and lost was immaterial,” Hani says when she describes the moment she dismissed the last lingering doubts she harboured about the validity of her status as an addict.

In the beginning of the book, when she describes life in Maseru, her voice is that of her child-self. Her sentences are short and to the point — a characteristic that is carried through much of this memoir of loss, addiction and triumph. It’s matter of fact in its tone, even though at times she attempts some levity, which doesn’t always hit the mark — but when it does it provides welcome respite from the unending heartbreak of her pre-recovery years.

At times, during her descriptions of the episodes arising from her addiction, she begins a new point, only to leave it hanging and unresolved. It is as though she isn’t sure whether she can trust us. I don’t blame her. It’s a lot to take in.

The chapter on the love of her life, Sikhulule, is particularly harrowing. Her attempt at flowery prose to describe their time together is thwarted by the interminable sense of loss still palpable in her short, sharp sentences. The public tragedy of the loss of her father is almost equally matched by the private tragedy of the loss of the love of her life. It’s all too much.

Of her mother, Lindiwe says: “She wasn’t gung ho about me sharing my story in this book but she has backed off. She might even like it.” I think she might not. Mme Limpho Hani, who is almost as revered as her husband in the collective psyche of a nation, does not come across as a nice person. One gets the sense of a hard-to-love matriarch, a trait no doubt acquired through long years of sacrifice as the wife of a globe-trotting revolutionary and, later, the widow of a national symbol, raising three daughters alone in an unfamiliar country and a rapidly changing world.

In the final chapters, in which Lindiwe describes meeting “the bogeymen” of her childhood, Derby-Lewis and Walus, she flexes her prosaic muscle, almost to the point where one begins to feel the book was written by a different person. Her extensive use of metaphor and other language devices comes across as a way to create distance between herself and the subject of the epitaph of this emotional roller-coaster book. It’s an escapist trait she developed during her childhood in Maseru, when she imagined her family to be like the Huxtables of The Cosby Show (in which she was Rudy).

In writing about the experience of meeting Walus and Derby-Lewis, she is still careful not to trigger her addictive behaviour. Taking us deeper into her confidence, her writing here is detailed and melodic when she describes the guilt and anxiety caused by meeting these men.

It’s strange how personal this part of the story feels, even more than the familiarity of the earlier chapters. The story of Being Chris Hani’s Daughter lies at the very nexus where the personal becomes political and vice versa. For 24 years we have asked ourselves “what if?” to the point of concocting conspiracy theories as a way to appease the pain of losing so promising a leader.

The triumph of his number one fan, his youngest daughter, over the pain and loss should help to embolden our own recovery as we seek a way out of the kakistocracy we find ourselves in.

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